|Cary MS-1 Digital Music Server/Player Review|
|Home Theater Media Servers Music Servers|
|Written by Todd Whitesel|
|Friday, 22 October 2010|
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The MS-1 relies on two metadata services – FreeDB and MusicBrainz – to obtain album information. I was less than impressed with the retrieval, as many albums were tagged as “Unknown”; others, such as The Flower Kings' Stardust We Are and the previously mentioned album from The Band displayed incorrect album art. The former showed cover art from The Rod Stewart Sessions 1971-1998 box set, the latter displayed The Band Perry's 2010 self-titled release. Across the board, it was hit or miss regarding album info and artwork. Rather obscure releases including Miller Anderson's Bright City, Quicksand's Home Is Where I Belong and Kayak's Merlin were tagged accurately including album art. Thus, I found it strange when Van Morrison's Beautiful Vision and ELO's On The Third Day were relegated to the land of unknown albums. If you want to edit and make corrections, it's necessary to first copy the album to your computer, manually tag the album and then copy it back to the MS-1. That may not sound like a big deal, but if you're suddenly faced with a dozen or more “Unknown” albums it becomes a hassle. The last thing you want to face is a sea of unlabeled albums and tracks, unless you like guessing. My advice: deal with any Unknowns immediately; tag the tunes and drop 'em back into the server and be done with it.
I've sung the praises of HDtracks and the company's high-resolution FLAC downloads. And it's here that the MS-1 clearly separates itself from conventional compact disc players. I love being able to have 24/96 audio files at my ready, and The Kinks' Misfits is one of the sparkling offerings from HDtracks that I was able to enjoy via the MS-1. The fidelity is superb, and the MS-1 responds in kind. Other outfits, such as Bowers & Wilkins and Linn Records, are making high-res downloads available, and the MS-1 eliminates the need to burn these tracks to DVD for archiving or playback.
My “wow” moment with the MS-1 fully came when listening to Wishbone Ash's Argus. I've heard this album hundreds of time; still, I was shocked to hear the opening guitar lines of “Time Was” come through with such pristine and immediate presence. There was a sense that I was no longer listening to a recording, but Andy Powell and Ted Turner's individual guitar amps. Just when I thought I knew every nuance and accent, the doors opened for more. For me, that's what it's all about.
The MS-1 can even make MP3s sound better. I avoid these tinny and compressed files whenever possible, but as an experiment I converted a few CDs to MP3 files and handed them over to the MS-1. First up, from the depths of my disc archives, was the Norwegian folk-rock band Folque. The group's 1977 release, Vardoger, is a superb effort featuring the stirring vocals of Lisa Helljesen and the swift string work of fiddler Trond Villa. The songs may be sung in Norwegian, but the music echoes early '70's Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span. Heard via the MS-1, I didn't feel cheated sonically like I often do with so many lossy files. In reality, the MS-1 deserves better but it's nice knowing it can get down in the trenches and still deliver the goods.
Not to gloss over the almost unlimited music options via SHOUTcast. If you tire of listening to your own collection or just want to investigate other artists, the MS-1 makes it easy. Where else but Internet Radio will you hear “Amazing Grace” sung in Cherokee on a Celtic station? That's just one of the many delights I found, when I stumbled upon Talitha MacKenzie's stunning take on a well-worn hymn. That and hundreds of stations spanning every musical style are at your fingertips.
Can the MS-1 replace a CD player? In some ways, it can replace 2,799 single-disc CD players. A common theme among reviewers of digital music servers is that of “rediscovery.” When an overflowing music library becomes organized and accessible at the touch of a screen, such rediscovery is not only inevitable, it's justification for building and keeping a collection. Fill up the MS-1, sit back and enjoy the music. But remember to give your CD player an occasional wave. It's likely to get lonely.